The bestest ever

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When Juan Antonio Samaranch took over as president of the International Olympic Committee in 1980, he set a precedent that was impossible to sustain.

In his closing speech, he said the 1984 Los Angeles games were the best ever. Then he decided the 1988 Seoul Olympics were the best. Four years later, according to Samaranch, the Barcelona games topped them all.

The competition was fierce. How could each city possibly live up to its predecessor? Every successive Olympics, it appeared, surpassed the previous one. It was an amazing upward surge towards perfection.

The high-rolling finally came to an end in 1996, however, when a bomber set off an explosion in a crowd during the Atlanta games, killing two people and injuring dozens more.

Samaranch called those games “most exceptional,” a thinly veiled double entendre. He then revived the “best ever” designation for his final appearance as president at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

(Of course, the 1972 Munich Olympics — in which 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and a West German police officer were murdered by terrorists — were arguably more “exceptional” than Atlanta’s.)

All this superlative talk is idle puffery, for the most part. But it’s amazing how some people take it to heart.

Does anyone really think George Street has the most bars per square foot in all of North America? Apparently, Bourbon Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter boasts a similar status. And Guinness World Records claims Hoboken, N.J., has 85 bars per square mile, more than any other city in the U.S.

In any case, how in heaven’s name do you even measure it?

Which brings us, as is often the case, to Stephen Harper.

When the prime minister declared Calgary to be the “greatest city in the greatest country in the world” at the Stampede this week, it must have been a slow news day.

Most major media outlets immediately picked up on the passing remark and threw it up for public discussion. For a while, it seemed pundits all across Canada were seriously gauging the political appropriateness of such shocking favouritism. Calgary? Really? Surely the PM is showing craven disregard for other worthy Canadian cities.

It’s bad enough that citizens place too much stock in the “expert” rankings of communities. When Bay Roberts got the bottom ranking in a national magazine a couple of years ago, residents were ready to draw and quarter the hapless editor — a man who actually had close family ties to the area.

But an off-the-cuff boast uttered during a charged sporting event? Surely we protest too much.

Remember, the true Olympic motto is “citius, altius, fortius” (faster, higher, stronger) — comparative, not superlative.

The latter is just a tool for stirring up the crowds.

Organizations: International Olympic Committee

Geographic location: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Barcelona Calgary George Street North America Bourbon Street New Orleans Hoboken, N.J. U.S. Canada Bay Roberts

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